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Future of the City: London’s markets rivalry with EU intensifies



This article is part of a series on the Future of the City of London

Appearing in front of the Irish parliament last week, Mairead McGuinness, the EU’s financial services chief, laid out the bloc’s uncompromising stance towards the UK’s largest services export.

“If a state opts out, there are consequences to that. There are consequences for the City of London which players and stakeholders there are well aware of,” she told the Dáil.

With the UK set to exit the single market on January 1, banks, exchanges and fund managers are poised for the end of an era of seamless market access that helped turn the City into Europe’s financial supermarket and handed £76bn in tax receipts to the UK government last year.

Chart showing UK dominates European trading in shares and ETFs

With a trade deal yet to be agreed, senior executives realise that the City of London will probably have only pared back and inefficient access to EU customers when the transition period ends.

Some jobs, trading and assets will transfer into the bloc as the market splits. Even so, financial companies are putting faith in the UK’s heft as a global trading centre to hold on to most of it.

“I’m not in the camp that feels that London has lost its mojo. I have a lot of confidence in London and its positioning,” said David Schwimmer, chief executive of London Stock Exchange Group. “Brexit has not been helpful but it doesn’t change the fact that it has a winning combination.”

Chart showing Germany is Europe’s biggest market for bond issuance

Since the referendum the EU has sought to ensure that Britain would not be able “cherry pick” the benefits of the single market for its prized financial services. Holding on to “passporting” rights, which enable banks and trading venues to offer financial services across the EU, was quickly ruled out. The industry was largely omitted from the trade talks.

Instead, Brussels successfully insisted that future co-operation be based on the same legal process it uses to manage cross-border activity with other countries such as the US and Japan.

The system, known as equivalence, relies on the UK and EU judging each other’s regulation and supervision to be as good as its own.

Access rights are granted unilaterally, can be withdrawn at short notice, and provide less comprehensive arrangements than single-market membership.

Bar chart of  Total bond notional amount outstanding by country in 2019 (€ tn) showing The UK sits also behind Germany for value of bonds issued

Moreover, they are piecemeal. Among the glaring omissions is the fact that the system does not cover basic banking or retail investment funds. There is no automatic recognition of qualifications of crucial ancillary financial services work, such as law.

Still, it does help to facilitate cross-border trading in shares and derivatives, as well as the provision of brokerage services. Paul Myners, the former City minister, describes equivalence as “very short-term. It’s like building a house on sand”.

Bar chart of Annual trading volumes in bonds in 2019 by domicile (€ tn) showing But London dominates trading of bonds

Business not covered by equivalence will rely on bilateral deals between the UK and individual member states that the European Commission has sought to limit.

The City is likely to start with only a handful of these permits at best, even though it will meet the requirements and Britain has made some concessions, for example allowing UK customers to use EU services such as exchanges, clearing houses and financial benchmarks.

Brussels is yet to provide assurances about how much of this unstable patchwork will cover the UK. It has already deferred a decision on cross-border investment banking services, saying its own regulations are still bedding down. It has limited its actions to those necessary to prevent financial turmoil. 

Diplomats say the EU’s stance reflects a mixture of negotiating tactics connected to the two sides’ future-relationship talks, a political agenda to become financially less reliant on the City, and concerns about handing rights to a country seeking to break away from EU rules.

Karel Lannoo, chief executive of European think-tank CEPS, said the UK and EU had conflicting views on a host of issues, including bonuses, bank resolution and securities trading. 

“Divergence will start rapidly in many fields, making equivalence even more difficult,” he said.

Future of the City

In a series of articles, the FT examines how London’s financial centre will fare in the decades ahead as Brexit negotiations reach their climax

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Without guarantees on access and the EU refusing “letterbox” relocations that employed a skeleton staff, financial companies with headquarters in London have set up local operations.

Banks opened subsidiaries in Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid, trading venues turned to Amsterdam, asset managers to Dublin and Luxembourg, and back-office business to Warsaw.

Some business has already moved: EY estimates banks have shifted €1.6tn of assets, and sovereign debt trading that would typically take place on venues in London is now in Amsterdam and Milan. More than £4bn of insurance premium income in 2019 that would typically be handled in London was written in new hubs such as Brussels. That outflow will be supplemented by share, derivatives and bond trading after the market splits in January.

The failure to resolve arrangements on cross-border business means parts of the market face disruption on January 1. About a sixth of London’s $1.2tn a day interest rate swaps market is particularly at risk, the Bank of England warned last week.

The business may go to the US to work around the regulatory barriers, said Emma Tan, vice-president of regulatory affairs at JPMorgan.

Fintech, covering payments and online lending, largely lies outside the scope of equivalence, forcing many companies to set up operations in the EU. However, they need an agreement to guarantee the flow of personal data, which affects everything from the use of customer details to using cloud computing services. “We have to be able to share data across borders as the fintech world is cross-border,” said Charlotte Crosswell, chief executive of Innovate Finance, a lobby group.

Mairead McGuinness, the EU’s financial services chief, told the Irish parliament last week: ‘If a state opts out, there are consequences to that’ © Kenzo Tribouillard/POOL/AFP/Getty

EU capital markets will shrink after January from just over a fifth of global activity to just 13 per cent, the same size as China, according to New Financial, a London think-tank.

That decline may allow London’s financial muscle to reassert itself in the short-term. While some jobs have been moved out, others have moved in. Bovill, a regulatory consultancy, found that more than 1,400 EU-based companies have applied for permission to operate in the UK after Brexit.

Moreover the City’s contemporary success is in part based on being a hub for global markets, dominating insurance underwriting and trading in currencies and derivatives. That activity has swelled since the referendum.

A deep market makes it easier for investors to buy and sell their assets at more competitive prices, pulling in more business and people to service it.

Capital flows across borders. Asset managers have set up local EU operations but retail investment rules allow £2tn of EU funds to be managed from London. Investment banks’ trading desks often “follow the sun” — handing over supervision of vast derivatives and currency portfolios with deals worth billions of dollars to colleagues in different time zones. London sits at the heart of this global network, catching the end of the Asian trading day and morning on Wall Street. EU trade is sometimes only a fraction of these markets.

EU consumers face higher energy costs and its companies “substantial limits” if they are shut out of commodity markets that only exist in London, European energy lobby groups have warned.

“European companies want access to the most liquid markets in the world. It may be that commercial logic trumps political considerations,” said Jonathan Herbst, partner at London law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

Clearing and settlement are the only activities for which Brussels has granted the UK temporary equivalence, because a sudden loss of access would threaten the stability of the financial system. London handles about 90 per cent of all deals in clearing houses such as LCH and ICE Clear Europe, which prevent a default from creating a chain reaction across markets.

The EU has made clear that the reliance on the City is intolerable and expects banks to move their euro-denominated trades into the bloc by mid-2022.

Yet the market has not moved in four years. Banks and their customers prefer to keep their business in one place because they can net their positions and save billions of dollars in the margin needed to support their positions.

Robbert Booij, chief executive, Europe at ABN Amro Clearing Bank, said banks such as his needed access to London clearing houses or they would be at a “severe competitive disadvantage” compared to UK and US rivals.

Britain may about to leave the EU but the long-term relationship between the two will take several years to resolve.

Additional reporting by Jim Brunsden in Brussels and Owen Walker in London

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Signs of inflation emerge as Chinese producer prices leap




For investors and governments eager to spot any sign of inflation as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese factories are a good place to look.

The country this week released figures showing that the price of raw materials and goods leaving its factories rose 6.8 per cent year on year in April, its fastest pace of growth in more than three years.

For almost all of 2020, China’s producer price index was in negative territory as Covid-19 suppressed demand. The recent and sudden rise was partly driven by the comparison with a year earlier and, with consumer price rises still below 1 per cent, the overall inflation picture remained mixed.

But the data was nonetheless a sign of pockets of price increases emerging across China’s rapid recovery, where higher overall inflation is expected this year. It also reflected a global rally in commodity prices that has been supported by China’s voracious demand as well as hopes that other big economies will bounce back, too.

“A combination of China and external factors led to this PPI surge,” said Robin Xing, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley. “It’s like a perfect storm.”

Line chart of Producer Price index showing Producer prices in China rise at the fastest year-on-year pace since 2017

China’s PPI index is made up of prices of producer goods, such as wardrobes or washing machines, that factories sell to shops before they are sold on to consumers.

It also includes the prices of raw materials and commodities, such as coal, when they are sold from extraction companies to businesses that use them to make goods.

It was the latter that drove the recent surge in Chinese producer prices. Global commodity prices, which collapsed last year in the early stages of the pandemic, have since rebounded. Iron ore this week hit its highest level on record, while oil prices have recovered sharply from last year.

Xing estimated that 70 per cent of the April PPI increase was driven by commodities. That rally was also tied to China’s recovery, which has been backed by strong industrial growth and a construction boom that led to record output of steel last year.

As such, the data reflected both the pace of China’s recovery as well as a global commodity rally that it helped fuel and now extends beyond it.

For policymakers, one crucial question is whether higher producer prices will feed through to consumer prices. China’s consumer price index was just 0.9 per cent in April — its highest level in seven months, but far from a level that would generate immediate fears of broader inflation within China.

While economists expect a rise in CPI inflation in China this year, they suggested that any reaction from the People’s Bank of China to this week’s data was unlikely. The portion of the producer price index that represents the prices at which businesses buy consumer goods, as opposed to raw materials, was up only 0.3 per cent year on year.

Analysts at HSBC said transmission from PPI to CPI would be “limited”, allowing policymakers to remain “accommodative”.

Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, forecast CPI inflation to rise to 2.8 per cent by the end of the year, with “pass-through” effects from PPI. But he suggested that the PBoC was unlikely to tighten in response to PPI, and that higher raw material prices instead posed a risk to Chinese demand and the wider recovery given controls on credit availability.

“For a typical borrower, $1bn six months ago may be enough to buy steel and cement to finish one project, but today it’s [maybe] not,” he said.

While the PBoC has not increased official rates since lowering them last year, the Chinese government has nonetheless tightened credit conditions over recent months.

It has also taken measures to rein in both its property sector, on concerns that easier money would encourage asset bubbles, and its steel sector, which has churned out the metal at a rate that threatens Beijing’s environmental commitments.

China’s gradual decarbonisation ambitions — and any production cuts they lead to within the country — are seen as constraints on supply, buoying the price of commodities further. 

Beyond raw materials, economists are closely watching other shortages. Iris Pang, chief economist for greater China at ING, said producer price inflation would be followed by chip inflation. A shortage of semiconductors, she said, was already beginning to drive price increases for consumer products such as washing machines and laptops.

Line chart of Per cent  showing Producer prices for consumer durables are gathering momentum this year

While the PPI index showed a much weaker increase in consumer goods than for raw materials, on a month-on-month basis there were notable rises. Durable consumer goods were up 0.4 per cent month on month in April, the fastest pace of growth since at least 2011, according to CEIC, a data company.

Apart from domestic construction, part of the demand for raw materials has been to drive the production of goods for export to western countries.

Data on Friday showed Chinese exports leapt 32.3 per cent year on year in April. But even when compared with April 2019, before the pandemic, the rise was about 16 per cent on an annualised basis, Morgan Stanley estimated.

Competition between producers in China meant this did not necessarily imply inflation for consumers overseas. Instead, China’s recent PPI jump hinted at just one of the global effects of western responses to the pandemic.

“If you try to figure out what is the end demand here for this PPI recovery, it is global stimulus,” said Xing. “External demand led to China’s export recovery, [and] now it’s far beyond its potential growth”.

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Covid batters India’s aspiring middle classes




When Ram Prakash died after a feverish and breathless week, his wife and 16-year-old daughter’s heartbreak was compounded by fear that the modest middle-class safety net he had knitted together might be ripped apart.

The 53-year-old, a tax adviser to local businesses, was one of the millions who had joined India’s fast-growing middle class in recent decades. Their rising incomes, better education and consumption powered one of the great global economic success stories.

But the calamitous second wave that claimed the life of Ram, the family’s breadwinner, has shattered the Prakashes’ hopes for the future. “Our life was going good but now it’s all over,” said Uma, his widow.

Economists warned that the latest outbreak could have long-term ramifications for middle-class Indians, whose rising consumption was expected to be the country’s growth engine for many years.

“India, at the end of the day, is a consumption story,” said Tanvee Gupta Jain, UBS chief India economist. “If you never recovered from the 2020 wave and then you go into the 2021 wave, then it’s a concern.”

India reported more than 320,000 Covid-19 infections and 3,800 deaths on Monday. Experts maintain that both figures are vastly undercounted.

The disease has heaped suffering on Indians irrespective of background. Yet this time, it has also hit hard an aspirational middle class whose newfound privilege previously helped shield them.

A lack of oxygen has been blamed for thousands of deaths © Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty

Public-health experts pointed to signs that after widespread infection among the urban poor last year, sectors of society including the comparatively affluent were more vulnerable this time round. This was compounded by the near-collapse of private health services on which they relied.

“You’re affluent but you can’t get a hospital bed. You’re affluent but you can’t get oxygen,” said Saurabh Mukherjea, founder of Marcellus Investment Managers. “That’s deeply disorientating.”

India’s middle class was already severely weakened by the recession that followed last year’s lockdown, even if they were better protected from the virus.

The Pew Research Center found that 32m people fell out of India’s middle class — defined as those earning between $10 and $20 a day — in 2020. That represented more than half of those added to the category since 2011.

Bar chart of Estimated change in number of people in each income tier due to the global recession (m) showing India’s poor grew while middle class shrank in 2020

India’s economy was expected to roar back before the second wave struck. For middle-class Indians on the brink, such as the Prakash family, this second shock may prove too much.

Ram, the tax consultant, had moved his family to a one-bedroom house in a humble New Delhi neighbourhood, bought a car and sent his daughter to a low-cost private school, hoping she could become a chartered accountant.

“He gave us so much when he was alive,” said Vasundhara, his daughter. “I only hope I will be able to continue my studies.”

Experts have debated what drove the high caseloads among middle class and rich Indians during the second wave.

Anup Malani, a professor at the University of Chicago, suggested that those populations proved more susceptible, especially as new variants spread.

In Mumbai, for example, studies last year found that about 50 per cent of slum residents had Covid-19 antibodies, compared with less than 20 per cent in more affluent surrounding neighbourhoods.

This is believed to have left the middle and upper classes more vulnerable, particularly to severe disease, researchers said. Doctors have reported similar trends elsewhere in India.

“The first wave largely infected poorer populations,” Malani and two co-authors wrote this month. The second wave “is disproportionately composed of individuals who are from non-slums”.

Bar chart of Estimated number of people in each income tier in 2020 before and after the global recession (m) showing The pandemic sets back growth of India’s middle class

Researchers said more data were needed but other susceptible populations could include those outside cities, such as in poor rural areas with shoddy healthcare where the virus was wreaking havoc.

The outbreak was so sudden that it overwhelmed even India’s best hospitals, including private facilities in cities such as Delhi or Bangalore.

Fewer than 1 per cent of Delhi’s 5,800 Covid-19 ICU beds are available, while crippling shortages of oxygen have contributed to countless deaths.

After Ram Prakash’s oxygen levels dropped, his family spent two frantic days ferrying him to six separate hospitals — both private and public — in a desperate bid to find treatment.

In the end, they brought him home. Ram died on April 27.

Uma and Vasundhara fear economic ruin. They have a shortfall of Rs30,000 ($408) to meet immediate expenses, including school fees and the mortgage on a neighbouring unit that Ram bought as an office.

“Right now our worry is just to survive, to get food and meet our daily expenses. But there won’t be enough,” said Vasundhara.

They plan to sell their car and Uma, a former Sanskrit teacher, wants to find work again. But they worry hopes of a better life are over.

“We had never imagined this could happen to us,” Vasundhara said. “We just can’t get our head around this.”

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Reeves promotion underlines Labour shift to centre ground under Starmer




When Sir Keir Starmer promoted Rachel Reeves to shadow chancellor late on Sunday night it emphasised his determination to defy the left of the Labour party and move in a more “centrist” direction after a series of disappointing local election results.

Reeves is unpopular with many “Corbynista” members — supporters of the party’s former hard left leader Jeremy Corbyn — because of comments she made in 2013 when she was shadow work and pensions secretary. That controversial moment saw her promise to be “tougher” than the ruling Tories on benefit costs.

Her role as vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel is also contentious among many Corbyn supporters who oppose the actions of the Israeli government. And while other MPs agreed to serve on the Labour front bench under the Corbyn leadership in 2015, Reeves was one of a handful who refused to do so.

Starmer first considered making Reeves shadow chancellor when he became leader in April last year — only to drop the idea, fearing that it would prompt a backlash from left-wingers.

Yet it would be wrong to characterise the 42-year-old MP for Leeds West — a former junior chess champion — as a “Blairite” or “rightwinger” even in Labour terms.

Sir Keir Starmer promoted Rachel Reeves in a reshuffle of his front bench on Sunday © Stefan Rosseau/PA

During the last parliament she chaired the business select committee, a position she used to interrogate corporate failure by Carillion, the collapsed contractor. She meanwhile struck out as a writer, penning two books about female MPs.

In 2018, she used a speech in London’s East End to call for a new series of wealth taxes to raise more than £20bn a year — shifting the fiscal system from income to property. The then shadow chancellor John McDonnell resisted the idea, amid concerns over a backlash from middle class Labour voters.

Indeed, there was a moment in 2019 when some of Corbyn’s aides — including policy adviser Andrew Fisher — advocated bringing Reeves into the shadow cabinet.

Sharper edge but no shift in strategy

In the short-term her promotion to one of the most important roles in the shadow cabinet may give a sharper edge to Labour’s top team but not necessarily bring a shift in strategy.

That is because the party creates its election manifestos through a drawn-out process called the “national policy forum” over several years.

Starmer has eschewed creating new policies on the hoof in favour of a focus on rebranding, telling voters Labour is “under new management” after the electorally disastrous Corbyn, who lost two general elections in 2017 and 2019 — the latter by the biggest margin in nearly a century.

The opposition leader’s popularity rose last year as he forensically attacked the ruling Conservative government over pandemic failures. But with the Tories enjoying a bounce from the vaccine rollout, he was criticised during the local elections for a lack of a positive policy vision. Some Labour insiders blame that for the setback at the polls — in which the party lost 326 council seats and was defeated in the Hartlepool by-election.

On Monday, many colleagues were positive about the promotion of Reeves after a year in which she has been one of the most high-profile figures on the front bench.

As shadow Cabinet Office minister, she took the fight to the Conservative government over its spending on personal protective equipment — expressing anger at the many contracts given to Tory contacts. She has also kept up the pressure on the Conservatives over the Greensill scandal.

Colleagues said as shadow chancellor she will emphasise the need for Labour to show it can be trusted to run the economy — an area of traditional political weakness for the party.

‘Competent and sensible on the economy’

That would continue the theme set by Dodds, who said in a speech in January — using the word “responsible” 23 times — that Labour would offer “responsible economic, fiscal and monetary policy”. The Starmer team has already distanced itself entirely from Corbyn’s 2019 election manifesto, with £83bn of annual public spending increases.

In an interview with the Financial Times last year Reeves struck a similar tone, saying the party needed to be “competent and sensible” on economic matters.

Yet she is not expected to return the party to the “austerity lite” approach of Ed Balls, shadow chancellor under former leader Ed Miliband, who promised not to increase borrowing even for capital expenditure.

One ally said Reeves could be expected to draw up a “transformative” programme — involving changes to the tax system and the decarbonisation of the economy — while also reassuring the public that Labour would spend people’s taxes wisely.

The decision to shift Angela Rayner, deputy leader, from her job as party chair plunged the reshuffle into chaos at the weekend © Jacob King/PA

Starmer’s reshuffle at the weekend was thrown into chaos after allies of Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, leaked she was being demoted from her job as party chair after the local election failures. The ensuing political storm overshadowed some more positive electoral results on Saturday in cities such as Manchester, London and Bristol.

Rayner turned down the job of shadow health secretary and instead took Reeves’s old job as shadow Cabinet Office minister as well as “shadow secretary of state for the future of work”.

Deep discontent

On Monday, after a two-hour shadow cabinet meeting, Starmer was seen buying a coffee at Westminster with Rayner in an attempt to put on a public show of unity after a weekend of acrimony.

Starmer’s bungled reshuffle has sown deep discontent among senior Labour MPs. “You can’t understand how angry people are,” said one. Allies of Rayner said she felt a “deep sense of betrayal”.

The reshuffle saw Dodds move to party chair and Alan Campbell promoted to chief whip with the departure of 70-year-old Nick Brown.

Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary and MP for Wigan, told colleagues she was convinced Starmer was planning to sack her and it was only a rearguard action by her supporters that persuaded him to drop the plan.

Nandy warned Starmer that she would quit the Labour front bench, rather than be demoted to another role.

Referring to the plans to demote first Rayner and then Nandy, one Labour MP said: “What genius would think it a good idea to demote not one but two women representing northern seats?”


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